THINGS COULD BE DREAMY : But Take Note Raiders: Putting Two Heisman Trophy Winners in the Same Backfield Can Backfire; Just Look at the Cowboys

Associated Press

The theory seems sound. If one Heisman Trophy-winning runner in the backfield is good, then two must be better.

It does not always work that way, though. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Raiders, equipped with four Heisman horsemen between them and drifting aimlessly through this NFL season.

The Cowboys go into Sunday's game at New England coming off an embarrassing loss to Detroit with the tandem of Tony Dorsett, Heisman '76, and Herschel Walker, Heisman '82, still unhappy over sharing a position built for one.

The Raiders are in San Diego Sunday, bending under the burden of a five-game losing streak, the last two losses accomplished with Marcus Allen, Heisman '81, and Bo Jackson, Heisman '85, also trying to fit their similiar talents into a single spot.

The dream backfield turned turbulent in both cases because they still play this game with just one ball. "Until they change that," ex-Cleveland Coach Sam Rutigliano said, "there's going to be unhappiness with those situations.

"Every conventional formation needs the lead guy to block. It's always best to be the second back in the I, not the first. That's what these guys are accustomed to doing, carrying the ball 25 or 30 times. They've got that home run potential. You can't realize it by splitting the job."

Allen's 1987 season with the Raiders began with a traditional Allen day -- 33 carries, 136 yards. He has been nowhere near that workload since Jackson arrived to practice his hobby. Allen carried 16 times for 41 yards in Bo's first game and 11 for 50 in their second game together. Jackson was 8-for-37 and 12-for-74.

Joe Scannella, the Raiders' offensive backfield coach, thinks the two Heisman runners can co-exist comfortably. "I think it's an advantage to the team," he said. "We don't have to re-define our offense, we just have to expand it a little bit. Marcus has accepted it very well. He's helped coach Bo and made him feel at home. He has not sulked one bit.

"I don't think it is going to create a problem. I think it's going to help solve the problem."

Scannella might, however, consider the plight of the Cowboys, who have been dealing with this dilemma longer with Dorsett and Walker. "Both of them are usually unhappy," Coach Tom Landry said.

"It's a shame you can't use both of them at the same time but it would be wasting them if we did," said Jim Erkenbeck, Dallas' offensive line coach who also coordinates the Cowboy running game. So Walker has been utilized frequently in a slot back formation as a receiver, which is not how he won his Heisman.

"Buffalo used to do that with O.J. (Simpson)," Rutigliano said. "If I'm coaching the other team, I say 'Great, put him at flanker. That's fine with me.' If they're not going to give the big guy the ball, I'm not going to argue about it."

Walker will, though. "I don't understand my role with the team," he said. "I must not be the type of runner the Cowboys are looking for. If that's true, I'd rather they let me play somewhere else where I am that type of runner. I'm not a wide receiver. I like to do the things I do best. They've taken that away from me."

"They ought to pick one mail carrier and stay with him," Dorsett said.

Landry did something of the sort on Thursday when he announced that Walker would get his first start at tailback this week.

"Our future rests in Herschel. Everybody knows that, even Tony knows that," Landry said after meeting Thursday with Dorsett. "He knows where we're headed. We're moving through a transition period where eventually we'll put him (Walker) at starting tailback."

Except for the strike-shortened season of 1982 and his rookie year, Dorsett never had run the ball less than 250 times or caught fewer than 30 passes until Walker arrived. Last year, with Herschel on hand, Dorsett's workload slipped to 184 carries for 748 yards and 25 catches. Walker carried the ball 151 times for 748 yards and caught 76 passes. Going into Sunday's game, Dorsett had 95 carries and Walker, frequently used as a slot back or wide receiver, had 64. Can two Heisman runners in one backfield ever work?

"It depends on the talents of the players involved," said Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, Heisman '63 and Cowboys '69-'79. "When you look at those four guys, historically they are the kind of players who need the ball 20 or 25 times. If they carry it eight, ten, twelve times, it's not the ideal situation. I don't think you can get the most out of them that way. There are only so many formations. They're both used to the tailback spot and lots of carries.

"It's a sticky situation. The only advantage to it is depth. The disadvantage is how do you keep two guys who are that good happy? I'd never be satisfied as a backup. If they wanted to give me $5 million to sit on the sidelines for 10 years, I couldn't do it. Life is taking advantage of opportunities. A player wants to play.

"In theory, sure, it's a great idea to have two great backs. But you need one to be a tailback and one to be a fullback. The ideal would be to have a Heisman winner who is a great blocking back and a good receiver. You've got to have the right Heisman winner."

He hasn't come along yet. The Heisman is a glamour trophy that traditionally goes to a headliner. "And these four are definitely headliners," Rutigliano said. "That's a problem. There's no way you can satisfy two guys. It can't be done. You need to make a declaration, pick one and make him the personality of your team."

Great running backs have always had great blockers in front of them. "You need one guy to sacrifice himself," ex-NFL Coach George Allen said. "And that goes back to the days of the single wing. You can have two home run hitters in the backfield, but one has to block.

"Marcus Allen has been the MVP and led the league in rushing, but you can't use a tailback like a fullback. It would be like batting Don Mattingly sixth instead of third or fourth. It's putting him out of place. You're not using his talent to the best advantage.

"These guys -- Allen, Walker, Jackson, Dorsett -- have to get their hands on the ball 25 or 30 times. They got the Heisman for running, not blocking. You need a fullback? Go get yourself a fullback."

This business of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is nothing new to Allen. "Football is a simple game," he said. "Some teams make it too complicated. And those teams don't win."

Allen recalled that when he was coaching and facing a third-and-one situation, a helpful assistant would sidle over to him and say, "Let's fool them and go the other way. Let the fullback carry the ball and the halfback block for him."

"I always had an answer for that," he said. "I'd tell them, 'Don't try to be too smart. Let the runner run and the blocker block."

But if you have Walker and Dorsett or Allen and Jackson, which one is the runner and which one is the blocker?

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